Coleen Rowley and Tim McGuire
Work and Conscience
Coleen Rowley is Special Agent in the Minneapolis Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. (She speaks in a personal capacity and not on behalf of the FBI.) Since September 11, 2001, she has been examining her own deepest motivations and has become a counselor and role model for others. In this program, she speaks about her personal experiences and how her conscience has developed. What might the high-profile courage of this plainspoken woman have to do with the rest of us, in other fields of work?
Tim McGuire is a syndicated columnist, speaker, and facilitator. He's the past president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors and former Vice President and Editor of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis. Tim McGuire connects the morality of whistleblowing with a larger movement sometimes called spirituality in the workplace. McGuire writes a weekly syndicated column, More Than Work, for United Media addressing ethics, spirituality, and values in work. He traces his interest in this field to a period in which he was searching for ways to reconcile his own values and his style of leadership.
February 12, 2004
KRISTA TIPPETT, HOST: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith, conversation on belief, meaning, issues and ideas. Today, “Work and Conscience.” We’ll explore some practical implications of spirituality at work with syndicated columnist Tim McGuire. But first, FBI special agent Coleen Rowley. In May 2002, Coleen Rowley wrote a now-famous 13-page letter to the chief executive officer of her place of work, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. She meant it to be a private letter, but it was leaked to the press and within weeks Coleen Rowley found herself testifying before Congress. She had raised serious and painstakingly detailed concerns about how the FBI had handled leads prior to 9/11.
[Excerpt from congressional hearing]
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 1: I do want to welcome special agent Coleen M. Rowley of the FBI. She came to the attention of this committee when she wrote a letter to Director Mueller that was given to members of Congress…
UNIDENTIFIED MAN 2: Agent Rowley is a patriotic American who had the courage to put truth first and raise critical but important questions about how the FBI handled a terrorist case. Agent Rowley, your testimony today is a great service to this committee, the entire Congress, the FBI…
COLEEN ROWLEY: The first thing I want to do is thank you for the opportunity to appear today. I never really anticipated this kind of impact when I wrote this letter to Director Mueller two weeks ago.
MS. TIPPETT: In the final paragraph of her letter, almost as an afterthought, this mother of four asked for protection under federal whistle-blower provisions, and it is as a whistle-blower, one of three named Time magazine persons of the year, that she will go down in history. But Coleen Rowley wears the label `whistle-blower’ uncomfortably. She is by all accounts a woman who loves her work. Since September 11th, 2001, and into the present, she has been examining her own deepest motivations and become a counselor and role model for others. Coleen Rowley agreed to speak with me for this program about her personal experience, not in her professional capacity or on behalf of the FBI. I wanted to hear how her thoughts on conscience have developed, and to consider what the high-profile courage of this plain-spoken woman might have to do with the rest of us in other fields of work. I was also curious about whether there’s a spiritual side to her. I began by asking how she became an FBI agent — why this is work she can refer to as a calling. It all started when she was 11 years old, watching the television series the “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”
[Excerpt from theme music of “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”]
MS. ROWLEY: There was a column in our newspaper that answered questions about television shows, so I wrote to this newspaper and I said, `When I grow up I want to join U.N.C.L.E., and then they wrote back in the paper and said, `Well, U.N.C.L.E. is a fictional entity. They’re the good guys fighting against evil spies. But in the United States, we have something similar called the FBI,’ and then they gave me the address and then I turned around and wrote the letter to the FBI. At the time, they sent me this `99 facts about the FBI’ and one of the questions in the `99 facts’ was: Why can’t women become FBI agents?
MS. TIPPETT: Oh, really?
MS. ROWLEY: Yeah. Yeah, and then there was a very elaborate, contrived response about how the job was too difficult and demanding, and you had to be able to dominate the situation. I can’t quite remember it all, but it was very creative writing exercise. And I remember even at that age, when I was like fifth or sixth grade, I read this and said, `Oh, how stupid. That’ll change by the time I grow up.’ And of course, it did.
[Excerpt from theme music of “Man from U.N.C.L.E.”]
MS. TIPPETT: FBI special agent Coleen Rowley. On September 11th, 2001, she had been an FBI agent for 20 years, from Minnesota to New York City to London. She was serving at that time as legal counsel in the FBI’s Minneapolis bureau. She and her colleagues watched the twin towers fall with a special burden of regret. For many months, they had been pushing FBI Washington, DC, headquarters without success to allow them to investigate Zacarias Moussaoui, now the only suspect to be facing trial in this country for the 9/11 hijackings. Moussaoui aroused the concerns of a flight instructor after paying thousands of dollars in cash to take a flight simulator course for a Boeing 747. FBI agents in Rowley’s office followed the lead and turned him over to immigration authorities on a visa violation. FBI headquarters claimed the Minneapolis bureau had insufficient probable cause even to request a search of his laptop. The laptop, it later transpired, contained files on crop dusting and commercial flight simulations. Coleen Rowley believed that an investigation of Moussaoui might have unraveled the 9/11 plot, and in the days following the attacks she became increasingly irate as she watched the FBI deny that there had been any leads that might have made a difference. She continues to disagree.
MS. ROWLEY: Yeah, the sad thing, of course, is not only the fact of the 9/11 attacks but then everything that has almost seemed like a cascade — kind of a domino effect — -all of the various things that have happened since — to include the government investigations of 9/11, to include maybe even the Iraq war, the war on terrorism, all of the actions that have now been taken in that respect — these all have stemmed from those attacks. And to the extent that if you feel that you could have done anything more that might have stopped it, it puts a tremendous burden or a tremendous — it’s just something that I would love to see this end. I would love to see the endless parade of things that are happening as a result of 9/11 — unfortunately, in a realistic sense, I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we’re going to be dealing with the ramifications of 9/11 for a long, long time. And in my own responsibility for perhaps not having tried harder, it’s greatly affected me. It’s also affected everything I’ve done since that time.
MS. TIPPETT: Time magazine wrote that `When Rowley upbraided her beloved FBI in a secret 13-page memo, she thought she was on a private rescue mission. In her view, it was not a reprimand but an act of redemption.’ Now that — that’s a religious word, and I wonder if you would have used that kind of language, if that is the understanding you had.
MS. ROWLEY: Well, what I’ve thought about — I don’t know if redemption is a bad term for it. I don’t know if I would have used it. The term I used in my letter is learn from your mistakes. I think that the only positive thing that can come from mistakes — we all are making mistakes all the time, and of course, recrimination and guilt and all these other things are counterproductive. I even said in my letter, `I don’t think we should go on a witch-hunt.’ On the other hand, we do have to have accountability and we have to unravel when a mistake is made, kind of like the story “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” The story about “The Emperor Has No Clothes” is such an important thing because you get to the point where people realize the mistake, so in the story a little boy is saying, `You’re — you’re naked, Emperor,’ but then what almost always happens in these situations is someone says, `Continue the parade. No one’ll know. We can still pull it off.’ And that’s kind of where I think this redemption or whatever you want to term it comes in, because at that point you have to come clean. You have to figure out what went wrong and fix it. And the only way — I mean, even people with bad habits, like alcoholism and whatever, will always tell you you have to at first admit it. And once you admit it, you can begin the process of getting better.
MS. TIPPETT: And you know what? You’re describing a very pragmatic and practical — but it also has a fierce sort of moral determination behind it.
MS. ROWLEY: Well, I suppose there’s a lot of things — you know, ‘course, we’re all the product — we aren’t born with these consciences. They develop over time, and I’m sure when I was young, I can probably put my parents, my friends actually, my teachers — I grew up in a real strict school. Wasn’t Catholic, but it was the next thing to it. We had teachers that were not tolerant at all of mistakes and misbehavior, etc. And at the time, we almost thought it was unfair; some of them were almost mean. But now, of course, all these years later, I realize that that had a great deterrent effect. It kept discipline in the school, and I’m looking back at all these lessons. I had a teacher who gave me an F once for not putting my name on my paper. I mean, when I told this to a junior high class, they all awed in the room because they couldn’t believe that that would happen. And of course, after that, guess what? I really learned to put my name on the paper. But that type of thing — church. I did go to church as it — growing up. I went every Sunday and I think all of these things kind of help you develop a conscience.
MS. TIPPETT: Do you think there was a religious impulse in the stance you took after 9/11 in the FBI?
MS. ROWLEY: I think actually I’ve done more thinking since this all occurred. I think when they called me to testify, I couldn’t sleep a couple of nights, and I’m not quite sure I can even articulate what was going on there. But after the 9/11 and in talking now about the topic of integrity, and I’ve had a chance — I haven’t read really since joining the FBI — we don’t have much time. We work 60-hour weeks, and I don’t have the time to read books. But I have gotten so interested in this whole area that I have read three or four philosophical, some religious-based books — books about other notable people who in history have taken really tough stances.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, tell me about some of the things you’ve read and connected with.
MS. ROWLEY: Well, the — couple of books. Fulton Sheen has a book called “The Cross and the Beatitudes” that someone gave me after I talked about legal ethics, of all things. And I’ve read this book and it’s got profound things in it, of course. There’s another one that I remember from my French major days called “The Fall” by Albert Camus, and this is basically somebody who when you come up against — and everyone in life does — comes up against something very, very difficult, in “The Fall” it’s jumping into an icy river to save someone, even though you have virtually no chance of success and you would be risking your own life. And the person in “The Fall” takes the path of least resistance and pretends that he doesn’t hear the woman drowning. Now that’s very powerful, and yet it is so basic to human nature that no one wants to take these risks themselves, and at the end of “The Fall” the man — in a way he hopes that he’ll come across a second incident like this so that he can redeem himself from the first time when he shied away. But at the end, he realizes that he will always be too late. In other words, he’ll come up with a second excuse if it ever happens again. It just shows you how weak we are in terms of human nature and trying to — and — and there are other things. I’ve read Solomon Asch study about the line study and the Milgram…
MS. TIPPETT: About what?
MS. ROWLEY: Solomon Asch? He did this study in 1951 where he has the groups — there’s two lines, and one is a shorter line — demonstrably, visibly shorter. He has people then tell him which is the longer line. But before he does that, he has three people march in in front and pick the shorter line. Now the fourth person, who is the test subject — 69 percent of the time goes along with the group. Even though he can see — he doesn’t trust his own senses. And this conformity — as humans, we want to conform and we are sometimes unwilling to take these tough stances and don’t conform. Well, all of these things that I’ve read since 9/11 have kind of fueled my passion in this area because I think in terms of integrity we are suffering almost a crisis in the country.
READER: A portion of Coleen Rowley’s 2002 letter to Robert Mueller, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. `I feel at this point I have to put my concerns in writing concerning the important topic of the FBI’s response to evidence of terrorist activity in the United States prior to September 11th. The issues are fundamentally ones of integrity and go to the heart of the FBI’s law enforcement mission and mandate. Moreover, at this critical juncture in fashioning future policy to promote the most effective handling of ongoing and future threats to the United States’ citizens’ security, it is of absolute importance that an unbiased, completely accurate picture emerge of the FBI’s current investigative and management strengths and failures. To get to the point, I have deep concerns that a delicate and subtle shading, skewing of facts by you and others at the highest levels of FBI management has occurred and is occurring.’
MS. TIPPETT: Again, Coleen Rowley.
MS. ROWLEY: You look out and you see some real evil horrible — of course we’re human so we can’t help it, but we’re seeing this in our country and in the world. We have corporate scandals, we’ve had government — we’ve had the priesthood. I think you have three options. One is it’s just so depressing to see so much evil, so much hatred and greed and selfishness going on. Being in the FBI unfortunately I’ve seen that for 22 years because we are working criminal cases. We see the bad side of things. We see crimes every day. You know, we see greed, selfishness at work. And I think people in that case have three options. They can commit suicide ’cause it’s so bad; it’s hard to face. And you saw that analyst in England recently…
MS. TIPPETT: Right, who was in the British government.
MS. ROWLEY: …who just committed suicide in the face of how bad he saw things. So that’s one option. The other option is just to give into it. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. And I’ve seen this happen with any number of people, and I think this is where — with students, for instance, that cheating in school? Their main excuse is how can I not cheat? Everyone else is. Corporate people will tell you the same thing. `My business competitor is doing this. We have to or our company will go down the tubes.’ And then, of course, if we can’t beat it, join it — we’re all after the mansion and the good life and having this — you know, maybe it’s a short life, but we’re going to live it up while we’re on this earth. So that’s the second option. Then there’s the third option, and that is struggling against it. And I think this is where — if I would say the word `faith,’ religion comes in. There was a very famous — or I guess kind of famous Lutheran theologian who died in the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. And he said — and this is exactly what I will take from I guess my — I would definitely agree with.
MS. TIPPETT: Is it Bonhoeffer? Dietrich…
MS. ROWLEY: Yeah.
MS. TIPPETT: …Bonhoeffer? OK.
MS. ROWLEY: Yeah. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, `Faith does not exist apart from human conflict, but is born of complete engagement in this world.’ And that’s — I guess if I have to say that’s my religion, that’s my religion. I go to work every day trying to make a difference and trying to think of these concepts and apply them in normal everyday life. To me that’s true religion.
MS. TIPPETT: And is that also how you think about the meaning of integrity? Say, if one of these high school students you talk to asks you what does that word mean.
MS. ROWLEY: Well, the simplest definition of integrity is doing right when there is no one to make you do it but yourself. Another simple way of looking at it is self-policing. I talked yesterday to a group of 500 — it was the Women in Federal Law Enforcement Conference. All — almost all law enforcement officers — Customs, Air Force, Coast Guard — but they were all law enforcement officers, and I talked about self-policing. I said, `You think it’s going to put us out of a job?’ You know, we’re — this country is so bad we’re operating in a line now where we’re depending on the police. Instead of operating above that, like I just mentioned, which is we would all do the right thing even when no one is watching, now we’re depending on police to catch us. And when we do catch people, instead of admitting that they did something or not, it’s `prove it.’ We’ve turned into a Court TV society.
READER: From a footnote in Coleen Rowley’s May 21st, 2002, memo to FBI Director Robert Mueller. `By the way, let me furnish you the Webster’s definition of careerism: the policy or practice of advancing one’s career, often at the cost of one’s integrity. Maybe that sums up the whole problem.’
MS. TIPPETT: I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith. I’m in conversation with FBI whistle-blower Coleen Rowley. In her two decades with the FBI, she has served as a field agent, ethicist and lawyer. She is also a triathlete and an expert marksman. Her courage in telling the truth about the agency she loves and risking her job for doing it was born of principles she’s always lived and worked by. So I asked her does ethics need religion.
MS. ROWLEY: I think so. Yeah. I think that’s what I was saying here. Of course, we have any number of people who are very ethical and I think in a way that is a form of religion. In the broadest sense it is. You’ve got to be able to say that this does matter, even though, you know, we may — may not even see the results. We have people who will try their darnedest and don’t even see they’ve accomplished anything. But ultimately, you have to kind of have a belief that there is a greater good, there is a higher purpose, and you’re doing it for those reasons. This ties in real well with this poem that — that’s really been, like, one of the most meaningful things — motivating things as well that was sent to me in — like I would say, my darkest hour after I got the — this letter published in The New York Times in March on the eve of the Iraq war. I, of course, was tremendously criticized and called a traitor and a friend of Osama bin Laden — unbelievable stuff. Well, this poem was sent to me.
MS. TIPPETT: Well, would you read it?
MS. ROWLEY: Sure. Thank you.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MS. ROWLEY: It’s — it was actually found at Mother Teresa’s bedside and apparently was posted on her orphanages’ walls, and it goes, `People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful you may win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. The good you do may be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway. Honesty and openness make you vulnerable. Be honest and open anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. People who really want help may attack you if you help them. Help them anyway. Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt. Give the world your best anyway.’ That’s the end of the poem that was sent me. But I’ve actually heard there’s another line to it. Following `Give the world your best anyway,’ — and this is on a CD — the line says, `In the final analysis, it is between you and God. It is not between you and them.’ And — and of course, this is — this explains it all.
[music: “Anyway” by The Roches]
MS. TIPPETT: And adaptation of the prayer Coleen Rowley just read, by Suzzy and Maggie Roche on their 2001 CD “Zero Church.” As they researched the prayer they found that although it is widely attributed to Mother Teresa and may have hung by her bedside, it was actually written by a man named Kent Keith who lives in Hawaii. He composed it as a set of ethical guidelines for student council leaders. He called it the 10 Paradoxical Commandments. It’s now circulating around the world in several versions. This is Speaking of Faith. Today, “Work and Conscience.” After a short break, more of my extended conversation with FBI special agent Coleen Rowley. Also, journalist Tim McGuire on the morality of whistle-blowing and the burgeoning field of spirituality in the workplace. I’m Krista Tippett. Stay with us.
Welcome back to Speaking of Faith, conversation on belief, meaning, issues and ideas. Each week we focus on a different theme asking how religion shapes everyday life. Today, “Work and Conscience.” I’m in conversation with FBI special agent Coleen Rowley. She gained national fame as a whistle-blower after a letter she wrote to the head of the FBI. Her action led to a full-scale investigation of the agency’s handling of pre-9/11 leads. She shared the honor of Time magazine person of the year with two corporate whistle-blowers, Sherron Watkins of Enron and Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom. Coleen Rowley agreed to speak with me for this program about her personal experience, not in her professional capacity or on behalf of the FBI. She says that all that’s happened to her since 9/11 forces her to tell the truth at every turn, and so on the eve of the war in Iraq, she wrote a second letter to the FBI director which was published in The New York Times. She warned that military action in Iraq would only increase the terrorism the FBI was charged to counter.
READER: `To FBI Director Robert Mueller, February 26th, 2003. Dear Director Mueller, in June 2002 on the eve of my testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, you told me that you appreciate constructive criticism and that FBI agents should feel free to voice serious concerns they may have about senior-level FBI actions. Since then, I have availed myself twice of your stated openness. At this critical point in our country’s history, I have decided to try once again on an issue of even more consequence for the internal security posture of our country. That posture has been weakened by the diversion of attention from al-Qaeda to our government’s plan to invade Iraq, a step that will in all likelihood bring an exponential increase in the terrorist threat to the United States, both at home and abroad. `In your recent testimony to the Senate, you noted that the al-Qaeda network will remain for the foreseeable future the most immediate and serious threat facing this country, adding that the prevention of another terrorist attack remains the FBI’s top priority. You then noted that a US-Iraq war could prompt Baghdad to more directly engage al-Qaeda, and perhaps provide it with weapons of mass destruction, but you did not connect these very important dots.’
MS. TIPPETT: Here again is Coleen Rowley.
MS. ROWLEY: People do have perhaps an illusion or delusion that someone is a hero for having their picture on a cover of a magazine, and I disagree. I think everyone has that potential in themselves to do the right thing and then be a hero. That’s why when I talk about this and tell people — we’re all going to be as teachers, as corporate CEOs, as lawyers — you are going to be facing these decisions, the same type of thing, maybe to a lesser extent, maybe to a greater extent than I did. And — and it helps to talk about it. It helps to listen to others. It helps to get some mutual encouragement about doing the right thing. And so to the extent that I — I feel a kind of a calling here, and it is partly because of — of what’s happened to me and perhaps partly because of the media, I’ve never felt, of course, and I totally hate — I hate the term `whistle-blower.’ I probably hate the term `hero’ as much, and I — and it’s not deserved. I actually went back to Time magazine afterwards and told them I just feel terrible about this. And I’m talking about the Camus book. I said, `You know, I’m going to be 95 running around one of these frozen lakes in Minnesota and see someone out on the ice, and I’m going to feel like I have to go out there and try to save them now because of this “hero” aspect.’ And I think, though, in our lives we see these things every day. The other thing here is if you really have a whistle-blower-type situation where you have to reveal some huge mistake or thing that’s going to get you in trouble, it’s scary to tell people to do that because in almost all cases they are going to end up being retaliated against. I can tell you it’s — it’s not a good thing. They may end up being fired, and in some respects, if you read — if you read history, there are people who end up being martyred over doing the right thing. You have to be honest with people when you’re telling them you’re in this situation; you — you — you see su — such and such going on wrong. And then say, `Oh, always do the right thing,’ you know?
MS. TIPPETT: Right, and — and you were — are the breadwinner for — for your family and you have four children, and so you took a tremendous risk.
MS. ROWLEY: Well, losing a job — of course, a risk of losing a job is very big. Sherron Watkins will tell you, though, that walk away from those jobs where it’s a bad environment and try to get a new…
MS. TIPPETT: And Sherron Watkins — was she at Enron or…
MS. ROWLEY: She was a — a vice president — one of the vice presidents at Enron and she had actually worked for Arthur Andersen before Enron. And you know, a job is important, but you know, it’s not as important as the things I just went through in the Mother Teresa poem.
MS. TIPPETT: Yes, and as you said, they won’t pay the rent. They won’t pay the mortgage — those things — is what’s scary about them, right?
MS. ROWLEY: And I again — when talking to other people it’s like it’s kind of scary to tell people that. But I honestly think you have to. I think we’re just going way too — again, down to this lowest common denominator in this country and at some point it has to be raised up. When people see, for instance, in the corporate environment the accounting that isn’t adding up but they are trying to keep up with their competitors, you’ve got to stop it. Well, the poor accountant who — who brings that to light may lose their job; you’re absolutely right.
MS. TIPPETT: Are you still doing the same work that you were doing before?
MS. ROWLEY: I was the legal counsel and then after the — The New York Times piece, I myself requested to take a grade cut to become a regular agent again, partly because in our office, there was — there were at least a core group of people who said they no longer could trust me. I don’t know if over time that will, you know, stell — still stay the same. I’m trying to prove that that was not correct, of course, that I’m not a traitor and that I can still, you know, work fine and be friends with people, etc., and I do have strong views on a number of topics in the legal aspect, of course, the whole idea of the criminal procedure and First Amendment rights and your Miranda rights and your — our ability to conduct a search and seizure — this is all kind of in my — my — my legal background. And I have pretty strong views on that, and I’m trying, of course, to — even though I’m not in the legal position, I’ve tried to give a couple of talks about that because that’s kind of embedded now with the war on terrorism.
MS. TIPPETT: Have you been able in your place of work with your colleagues to talk about some of the things that you and I have talked about today? What happened and what it meant and what these values are and…
MS. ROWLEY: You know, if — if anyone would ask me I probably would, and I don’t — there may have been a couple of conversations in a minor way where people have kind of asked me. But for the most part, it goes unsaid. We’re far too busy in the first place for doing a whole lot of personal talking. You know, we’re — we have a job. People come in and, you know, work-related topics, of course. We talk a lot and I have talked with my co-workers on any number of work-related things. But when it comes to personal stuff, not so much and especially now when we — we really just don’t have the time.
MS. TIPPETT: Coleen Rowley, what gives you energy now as you move forward, and what gives you hope? Where do you find hope?
MS. ROWLEY: Well, I will have to say that I’m a person who sees the cup half-empty for starters. It’s almost a trait of whistle-blowers. I’ve heard the guy from Government Accountability Project mention that he sees traits in whistle-blowers. One is that they’re not able to put their morality to the side and say, `Oh, that’s a one-hour thing on Sunday.’ It’s your whole life; it’s your work, it’s your family — it’s everything. That’s one trait. Second one is that they tend — whistle-blowers tend to almost be a little too perfectionist and too critical. And my husband is the first person will say I’m an overly critical person. I have tended — you know, since 9/11 and through everything that’s happened to see the hopeless side. I mean, that is the thing I think that I’m battling is becoming very depressed at everyth — everything bad going on in the world. The wars, the violence, the — the hatred of — of people that are just spurring these terrorist attacks. It’s — it’s a very depressing thing, and — and battling that complete hopeless feeling where you just say `I give up. I can’t do anything.’ The only thing that is keeping me going is a development of a real strong faith.
MS. TIPPETT: Coleen Rowley of the FBI.
I’m Krista Tippett, and this is Speaking of Faith. Today, “Work and Conscience.” In the report of the congressional joint inquiry into the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clark said this: We need a thousand more Coleen Rowleys, and you are never going to get them until you provide them with some encouragement both from the director of the FBI, from the president of the United States, and most importantly, from the Congress. In fact, it appears that the phenomenon of whistle-blowing has increased, along with the better-reported phenomenon of corporate scandal. The Government Accountability Project is a non-profit organization that helps workers in corporations and government. It reports an exponential increase in whistle-blowing in the past four years. My next guest, syndicated columnist Tim McGuire, connects the rise of conscience at work with a larger movement sometimes called spirituality in the workplace. He was a newspaper editor by the time he was in his early 30s. Later, he was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. He retired two years ago and now he writes a weekly syndicated column called more than work addressing ethics, spirituality and values. He traces his interest in this field to a period in which he was searching for ways to reconcile his own conscience with his style of leadership.
TIM MCGUIRE: I had a conversation with a workplace consultant in ’93 that I remember vividly, in which we were going back and forth and I was complaining about the behavior of staff and the like. And he and I went back and forth, and he said some things and finally — I don’t remember a lot of what he said specifically, but I remember me saying, `I can’t just pretend to be a person of faith on Sunday and then not act it out here at work every day, can I?’ And he gave me this big smile, like `I knew you’d get it eventually.’ And ’round 1997 or so I started some academic study in the area, and there is not a lot of academic study. There are no programs in the United States on workplace spirituality and ethics and values. There are some courses.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. MCGUIRE: And I’ve taken some of those courses, but most of it is self-taught, and what I’ve attempted to do with this column is to articulate, I guess, the discipline of workplace spirituality and ethics and values, and start the discussion about them.
MS. TIPPETT: These days, that discussion is well under way. There’s a growing movement reflected in book sales, seminars and coaching. McGuire believes that it is going to reach a tipping point in the next five years. He has a concrete sense of how that is already playing itself out in some American companies. He says that spirituality at work is at heart about employees bringing their whole selves to work. But I wondered whether that might not get in the way of work itself. I asked Tim McGuire how he changed in concrete ways when he began to integrate his spiritual sensibility into his job.
MR. MCGUIRE: One of the things that I started with was not blaming everybody else for my troubles, and starting to put personal responsibility for myself not only for my own happiness, my own comfort, but for the comfort of others, and started realizing that if people were frustrated, I owned a part of that and started to work in that way. I started to look at, you know, how the golden rule plays out in the workplace — pretty basic concept. But it would make the workplace better if we all thought more about it.
MS. TIPPETT: And it is tricky, isn’t it? I mean, we pretend like workplaces are places where we are all being professional, and in fact, everybody’s humanity comes into the workplace in the same way that it’s present in the family, although…
MR. MCGUIRE: Absolutely.
MS. TIPPETT: …in some ways not as directly, which may make — make it even more difficult.
MR. MCGUIRE: Yeah, I think it very much is there, and we do bring all of our selves to work — or we should — and that, you will find that those places that have the highest morale and the people who feel most — most fulfilled are where they are allowed to bring their complete selves to work. It’s when you have to start parceling your life — your faith life belongs on Sunday, your work life belongs on Monday, your family life belongs at home, your work life is at work — that’s when you start getting into emotional difficulties; that’s when you start getting into anger and frustration that’ll play out in a lot of ugly ways.
MS. TIPPETT: But how do you work with the fact that if you say we’re all complete human beings, we bring our whole selves to work, all of our emotions — all — all the things that may be happening in the rest of our lives — how do you then combine compassion and morality in drawing the lines where that then gets in the way of the work?
MR. MCGUIRE: I think that some of the companies who have been successful at this have been better performers than other companies.
MS. TIPPETT: OK. So holding those two things as twin values…
MR. MCGUIRE: And they hold them in tension with each other.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MR. MCGUIRE: A lot of companies who are successful in this area hold things in tension that they — they have all these as goals, and if one gets slighted, then they’re not succeeding.
MS. TIPPETT: So I want to know from you whether that faith component makes a difference, how it makes a difference.
MR. MCGUIRE: I think it can, but it can also destroy a company because we are a country of multiple faiths and we always have to recognize that and we have to celebrate multiple faiths. And that’s why I put my emphasis on spirituality and not on faith. And in spirituality, your playing to that power that you believe has created you, that is the energy behind our lives. You can call it God, you can call it Fred if you want, but most people believe in that. And if we believe that we are driven by something beyond a paycheck, beyond rising in a career and it is something like common good and meaning and core morality, then I think we — we really do make our work a spiritual exercise. Some people would call those three elements — your work is a calling then.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. MCGUIRE: Work is how we spend much of, if not most of our life. It ought to be the same kind of life-giving force in our life that our family, that our hobbies and that our joys are. It should be one of our joys. And for too many people, it is not one of our joys.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, I think what I’m hearing you say also is that that joy or that calling is not necessarily defined by what the work is but how people are present in their workplace as human beings. MR. MCGUIRE: That’s my argument.
MS. TIPPETT: So you know, when you use this catchphrase `spirituality in the workplace,’ I think people might imagine there are prayer groups going on, and that’s not at all…
MR. MCGUIRE: Not at all.
MS. TIPPETT: …what you’re talking about.
MR. MCGUIRE: That’s not at all what I’m talking about. In fact, I try to get away from that. I think that that kind of thing can be a divisive force. Now is that sad? Yeah, a little. But I think what it’s all about is about our work enriching us and us enriching our work. And we’re doing that because we know we’re a part of something bigger, some larger force. And I think that’s what it’s about. Both in boomers and in the next generations, the search for meaning is very big. They look at their work in the same way I just talked about and say, `Is this all there is? Is this what work really is about?’
MR. MCGUIRE: I went to a reunion of my high school class and the class before it over the weekend, the frustration with work was pretty discouraging. We have to fix that. As I’ve said in a recent column, the system is in real trouble. The gap between executives and employees is getting wider and wider, and you don’t have to be concerned about spirituality in the workplace to be concerned about that issue.
MS. TIPPETT: Right.
MR. MCGUIRE: You just have to be concerned about the capitalistic system, and if you are we have to close that gap, and I think having more of a focus on ethics, values and spirituality is one way to close that gap.
MS. TIPPETT: But we do tend to focus on CEOs when we talk about workplace ethics, and you’re really calling more people to be like whistle-blowers.
MR. MCGUIRE: Very much, and I’m very much talking about behavior of everyone in a corporation, and sometimes readers don’t like that because readers really want to blame everything on CEOs.
MS. TIPPETT: OK.
MR. MCGUIRE: And that’s nuts. I’ve done several columns related to this subject. What I get a lot of, and I just got some more this week, are people who say, `Please don’t tell people to be whistle-blowers. The price is too high.’ And that rips me up. There really is a great deal of intimidation in the workplace, and one of the huge dangers, I think, right now is that a lot of people at the top are denying that. They don’t think there’s a problem. And I’m convinced there is. I try to always talk about everybody’s responsibility in the workplace. I think that it is true we have a leadership problem in America; we also have a followership problem in America. And that’s not a popular thing to say. Even leaders bristle at that — `Boy, whoa, you don’t want to say that.’ It’s true. We have a leadership problem and a followership problem.
MS. TIPPETT: And just to pull it back to this — I hear an echo in what you’re saying with my conversation with Coleen Rowley, with the interview I once did with Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic, that…
MR. MCGUIRE: A true leader in this area.
MS. TIPPETT: …yeah, a true leader in this area, and the notion that in fact telling the truth and facing one’s own weaknesses is — is something that a spiritual discipline calls one to.
MR. MCGUIRE: Reconciliation, forgiveness — all of those concepts. But vulnerability is not something that especially little American boys are urged to do. And obviously my life situation, a lifelong handicap and being the father of a Down syndrome boy, has led me to find vulnerability I think a little easier than some. But vulnerability is absolutely essential to this. And I’ve been thinking about an earlier question you asked. Certainly, staring at my own shortcomings as a leader has helped me pursue this area and think about it more.
MS. TIPPETT: I’m going to ask you to read this column that you wrote, which talked about whistle-blowing as a sort of phenomenon. There are these famous whistle-blowers who are the Time persons of the year, and Coleen Rowley is somebody I’ve had a conversation with that’s part of this hour, and again, you know, you bring some religious language into that, so I’m just going to ask you to read that.
MR. MCGUIRE: OK. `E-mail writers are constantly telling me that even though their workplaces are bleak and their bosses refuse to listen to sincere, well-intentioned feedback and advice, they are too frightened to rock the sinking corporate boat. They say nothing and do nothing. Fortunately, Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom, Coleen Rowley of the FBI and Sherron Watkins of Enron were not afraid to rock the boat, and that’s why Time magazine made them the persons of the year. I’m afraid most American workers are still too frightened, too reluctant and too intimidated to even speak their minds, much less be whistle-blowers. Because of the sheer negative power of bosses, too few people in the workplace are comfortable with the concept that some call prophetic work. The concept simply means speaking out for the what the worker believes is right. The ancient religious prophets spoke out against the kings, the rich, the powerful and they spoke to protect the poor, the lame and the sick. They spoke for truth. One scholar, Matthew Fox, says every profession requires prophets. He says the prophet by definition interferes and one significant place for our interference is where we work and earn a living. `As with all work and spirituality issues, the responsibility for the reluctance of American workers to be prophets, to speak their mind about wrongdoing, bad customer service or the abuse of privileges by other employees rests with both bosses and workers. `Here are six things I believe would make all of us better work prophets: One, start with yourself; make sure you are serving the interests of the company and not your own self-interests. Two, make sure the issues you advocate relate to the core values of the company; stop and ask yourself if it’s really worth the fight; don’t battle over the color of the drapes. Three, build, don’t destroy; be constructive. Four, enhance the self-esteem of others; remove contention by carefully listening to what other people say; then make their comments part of your solution. Five, be clear and straightforward without being judgmental; be direct, but don’t load up your argument with a snotty tone or condescension. Six, make your suggestions specific, actionable and manageable; too often we try to fix all the problems of the world in one meeting. These six steps will help you be more courageous and effective in the workplace.’
MS. TIPPETT: Tim McGuire is a consultant and syndicated columnist. He’s currently James Batten Visiting Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at Davidson College.
[music: “Anyway” by The Roches]
MS. TIPPETT: Earlier in this hour, you heard FBI agent and Time magazine Person of the Year Coleen Rowley.
We’d love to hear your comments on this program. Please write to us at [email protected]. You can also reach us through our website at speakingoffaith.org. While you’re there, you’ll find complete audio of this program, as well as our previous programs and relevant links to the music in this program and the work of Tim McGuire and Coleen Rowley.
I’m Krista Tippett. Please join us again next week.